Harris and South Lochs By-Election: Candidate Kris O’Donnell

Voters in the Na Hearadh agus Ceann a Deas Nan Loch (Harris and South Lochs) ward go the polls on Thursday, October 8, to elect a new councillor.

By Peter Urpeth, Local Democracy Reporter
Friday, 2nd October 2020, 10:36 am
Kris O'Donnell
Kris O'Donnell

There are three candiates – Kris O’Donnell, Annie Macdonald and Grant Fulton – and we’ve given each of them the chance to tell the electorate what they stand for and why they should be elected.

KRIS O’DONNELL

Kris O’Donnell lives in Airidhbhruach, and a key issue of his campaign is that of the future of crofting.

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“The most important thing for me is that this island is a way of life,” Kris says. “The core of that way of life, for a lot of folk at least historically, would be crofting. Crofting will move on, it will change shape and morph into new ideas, that’s perfectly fine, but the natural crofting way of life, if people choose for that to maintained, we should support them 100 per cent.

“We should support them more perhaps than folk that wish to buy land just so that they can build a house on it or two or three houses or chalets for Airbnb.

“The council have a duty of care over all houses and planning in their area,” Kris continues. “The land has a use as a croft. If someone isn’t utilising that land as a croft…a change of use should be required for that land.

“My idea is that because it is so expensive now, the council have the power to buy or to force through compulsory purchase orders for derelict or unsupported housing and for buildings suitable for housing. 

“They could buy a derelict house cheap, they could use the infrastructure budget to refurbish that house and then sell that house on the market. The council are making a profit on the house and can immediately reinvest that into custom built housing on crofting areas.

In terms of the closure of Pairc school, Kris says that he completely opposes the move.

“Housing feeds into the schools. The schools feed into the shops and if the schools aren’t there people aren’t living there, and so the shops end up closing.

“Getting rid of the schools is a disastrous thing. Having a lack of communication, with just the people within the school, but without the wider community, that isn’t democratic.

“That’s forcing something on an area, and even if there is only a few students at the school and a couple of teachers, that’s not much of a representative body.

“If they agree with the council that a school should close and merge with another one then, because of the wider impacts on the local community, I think the local community should have full rights to appeal any decision made about any closure of a school by the council, unless they have had adequate right to give feedback, and I don’t believe they have.”

And Kris is equally clear on the issue of executive headships: “Surely the council have already got people within the department of education, why do they need to employ an existing head teacher to be a head of combined schools?

“I’m a trade unionist and I am solidly against all cuts and redundancies, and if a job becomes vacant don’t merge two jobs together, promote the people that are below them.

“If you don’t promote the people that are below them, the deputy heads, you are not going to be given morale to the staff and they’ve got a hard enough job at the best of times.”

One issue that Kris is campaigning for is for a new aquaculture facility in the Pairc area that would provide a central point for the gathering and transportation of the islands’ sea food catch to Ireland, as part of the EU. 

Prompted by changes he identifies in European legislation, requiring that the catch is on the EU mainland within 48 hours, Kris says that the island industry is facing crisis without such an intervention.

“Scottish seafood is prime quality stuff, and around the world, given a choice between a Norwegian salmon and a Scottish salomon everybody would jump at a Scottish salmon, but that whole market is about the evaporate and there are a lot of other countries that will fill that space. 

“Once that’s gone, it’s gone for ever and cannot be recovered,” he concludes.

Kris is also campaigning for renewable energy to be in the hands of local community owned wind-farm renewables companies, and in term sof tourism says: “Tourism is crucial – we need to do more to support it, when tourism subsides they will eventually have fewer buses running to the ferry terminals, when the schools subside they stop having so many buses making journeys, when the buses subside less people want to live in an area – a knock on effect of closing the school, everything, whether it’s snow ploughs, schools are given a priority, if a school isn’t there any more that road loses its priority.

“Through the activism that I have been involved in I know how to speak with the public, I know how grass roots movements work and for change to happen on the isles the public need to stand up and be counted.

“The ideas that I come out with are proven to work, and I also have the time to dedicate to this.”

To read about the other candidates, go to Annie Macdonald and Grant Fulton